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FDA’s BPA Ban: A Small, Late Step in the Right Direction

By Jenny Levin
Public Health Advocate

Last week, the FDA announced a ban on the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from infant formula packaging. The rule change should provide some comfort to parents — however, it also showcased the FDA’s sluggish pace of action, and demonstrates to states that they shouldn’t wait for federal action to move forward with public health rules on their own.

We know BPA is dangerous — hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have linked low doses of the chemical to chronic diseases including cancer, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes and hyperactivity. And developing children and infants are the most at risk. 

The FDA’s announcement was a small, late step in the right direction. Three states (Connecticut, Vermont and Maryland) had already passed similar bans. And we’re still waiting on the FDA to stop BPA from being used in countless other types of food packaging.

BPA has already become ubiquitous in society. People who drink from water bottles made from polycarbonate plastics, such as those used in office water coolers or in older Nalgene bottles, have elevated levels of bisphenol-A in their urine.[i] In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of the Americans they’ve tested.[ii]

Too often, the FDA has been a follower rather than a leader in protecting Americans from public health threats. In 2012, following the lead of 11 states, the FDA banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups nationwide — after manufacturers of these products had already stopped their use of BPA. Now, the FDA’s infant formula packaging ban comes only after manufacturers have begun abandoning BPA in those products as well.

Even more disturbing, when the FDA was considering their tardy ban on BPA in infant formula packaging, they stated that the safety of BPA was not “relevant” to their decision, and that the ongoing safety review of BPA was “separate.”[iii] That’s not acceptable for an agency that should be using the most up-to-date science to protect the health of the American people.

The FDA’s slow reaction to health threats mean that states can’t wait to move forward with bans of their own. For example, they should ban BPA from the lining of food cans, where it can contaminate food and liquid it comes in contact with.[iv]

While last week’s ban will help assure parents that infant formula packaging is safe, there’s a long way to go to protect Americans — especially our youngest and most vulnerable — from the threat of BPA. It’s time to act, and to ban BPA from all food packaging.


 

[i] Jenny L. Carwile et al, “Polycarbonate Bottle Use and Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations,” Environmental Health Perspectives 117:1368-1372, 12 May 2009.

[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Factsheet Bisphenol A (BPA)”, accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html, on 24 July 2012.

[iii] Pittman, David. FDA Bans BPA in Infant Formula Packaging. http://www.medpagetoday.com/Washington-Watch/FDAGeneral/40397

[iv] American Plastics Council, Questions and Answers about BPA, downloaded from www.bisphenol A.org on 14 April 2004; Wilding et al, The National Workgroup for Safe Markets, No Silver Lining: An Investigation into Bisphenol A in Canned Foods, May 2010. Available at ej4all.contaminatedwithoutconsent/downloads/NoSilverLining-Report.pdf.

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